Sustainability consultant Tetiana Kanashchuk still lives with her nine-year-old son in a town outside Kyiv. On International Women’s Day she shares her daily challenge for survival and her hopes for a better future 

Tetiana and son

Tetiana Kanashchuk and her son during a blackout in their flat in Ukraine

I live in a small town close to Kyiv, where the hydro-electric power station on the Dnipro river is located. Unfortunately we are among the key targets when the Russians try to destroy Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.

There have been several “successful” attempts, when the missiles reached the distribution stations. On another occasion they were less precise and the rocket landed on a residential building. A school and three nearby buildings were also damaged. 

Tetiana Kanashchuk[67]

Tetiana has worked for Gleeds in Ukraine since 2006 

And people died. I can write about these things, but I am crying now. It just about works if you try to distance yourself from these terrible events as much as you can.

Day to day, my primary concern is to survive. I am partly joking, partly… not.

The loss of power and blackouts we had during the autumn and winter were very hard. We have portable gas stoves in our rooms, torches and candles for lighting. Often there is no water, heating or lifts (I am on the 18th floor) and a bad mobile connection.

For much of the winter we have been in survival mode, but we still met with friends, had coffees and wine. We read books (my book club re-opened in November and the first meeting was by candle-light). 

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We have also had to keep working, and my son has had to study. I even managed to complete an online Coursera course this year.

My son does his schooling online whenever possible given the unstable mobile internet connection. This has meant we have to juggle things – you don’t plan anything, but do working, parenting, washing, shopping, cooking, some normal life things at whatever time the electricity supply/internet availability/absence of air alerts let you do them.

I hold a bachelor’s degree, having studied ecology in construction. I then took a course with the Building Research Establishment and became certified and licensed as a BREEAM international new construction assessor.

I decided to go into marketing first, but then – as the interest in sustainability in Ukraine started to grow – I decided I would like to go into this field. This decision was welcomed and much supported by Gleeds, who enrolled me in the courses I have now completed.

Apart from issuing BREEAM certification, my work has involved performing environmental due diligence as part of the technical due diligence process, mainly for international clients who were considering the possible purchase of property. Interest in sustainability and ESG has only recently been growing in Ukraine.

We still have people who consider construction and real estate to be men-only fields I would urge any woman not to be afraid of being smart and bold, just as we are. Let everybody see what we are capable of

I guess the situation is better in other countries, but here we still have people who consider construction and real estate to be men-only fields. This is probably a post-Soviet inheritance and we are losing it more and more as time passes. 

I would urge any woman not to be afraid of being smart and bold, just as we are. Let everybody see what we are capable of.

Sunak in Kyiv1

Source: No 10 Flickr account

Prime minister Rishi Sunak meets President Zelensky on a visit to Kyiv in December

We registered two projects for BREEAM certification in December 2021 and a third project was under negotiation. Then 24 February 2022 arrived and everything was put on hold.

At the moment I am able to go out and visit buildings if and when required. In fact life is going on pretty well in Kyiv and other cities. Last week I went to Lviv to study at the Lviv Business School. I took my son with me and had a meeting with the investment department of Lviv city council.

In some ways I am now able to lead a more or less normal life – although nobody needs to ask why my child comes with me to meetings and when I study, and you see funeral ceremonies for dead soldiers in the centre of the city every day.

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During these tough times I have felt support from people from other offices. We were given uninterruptable power supplies (UPS) to have at home in order to survive during cut-offs and be able to charge laptops and mobile phones. What has surprised me in construction and real estate here in Ukraine at these times is that we, for example, have still issued several offers on green building certification during this year of war – people here are making plans for the future and these are optimistic plans.

I thought about leaving during the first month of war, when nobody knew what the next day would bring. I have relatives in Poland, I received mails from BREEAM assessors  with offers of help, accommodation and a job. I much appreciated this and replied to all. Gleeds was also eager to help with anything I decided to do if I’d leave.

But we decided to stay. I could not abandon this land – and I was not alone in thinking that way. It is probably still a silly decision given that we are situated in the direction of Belarus outside Kyiv. But we have been the lucky ones as, when the dam was damaged, the river flooded fields with water making it impossible for heavy tanks to move in our direction. So they turned towards Bucha and Irpin instead.

Each time I receive my salary, I donate to the army and volunteer funds. Each time we suffer a massive attack, I donate more

Had the circumstances been different, nobody knows what the consequences of my decision to stay would have been. Now we are all more or less used to the life that we have.

Each time I receive my salary, I donate to the army and volunteer funds. Each time we suffer a massive attack, I donate more. This is my contribution to the war effort.

What worries me the most is that the best people of Ukraine – the ones who decided to defend it – are being killed each day. Innocent people are killed because they did not run away in time. 

Each time I see a funeral, I stop and pay tribute as these are people I don’t know who gave their lives for me and my son to live and breathe freely, with dignity and liberty. 

As an ecologist, I also worry a lot because of the pollution our land, water and air received from the weapons, spillage and fire. As a mother I worry about vast mined areas which will take years to become safe. But what keeps me strong is the knowledge that we are defending our land and our homes – we are fighting with evil, everybody is on his private front, and the victory will be ours.

Tetiana and son2

With her son (and cat) in the family home

One moment that will stay with me is when I saw my son looking out of the window – we have floor-to-ceiling glass windows on the 18th floor – and a military aircraft with two helicopters was approaching. It was 24 February, 2022. This was the moment I understood what was really going on. 

The second moment I will never forget was on 23 November 2022, when a rocket hit a residential building in my town. From that moment we never ignored any air alerts. 

But there have been good times, too – seeing how united people are, gathering clothes and food, searching for pets who ran away, making temporary windows for all neighbouring buildings.

We are eager to live and be happy no matter what, we have learnt to value each moment – live in the here and now, as they tell you – simply because you know it really could be the last one you have.

The only future I can see is our victory. We are fighting with evil, an aggressor who came on to our land and killed our people – women and children. We are defending what is ours.

I look forward to being able to make plans again. Now, whatever I plan I remember this all can become nothing in one minute

We didn’t ask Putin or anybody to “save” us – we had a wonderful life full of plans and dreams. This is our land; they want to kill us but the life will go on.

After the war, I look forward to being able to make plans again. Now, whatever I plan I remember this all can become nothing in one minute.

Russian tank Kyiv1 copy

Source: Shutterstock

A captured Russian tank on display in the centre of Kyiv

I want to go to the sea – the Black Sea beaches. They are occupied at the moment. I want to travel with my son across Ukraine, show him de-occupied cities, pay tribute to the dead and give glory to our defenders.

I don’t know when it will end, but I hope it ends soon. This is what we pray for and we will then be very happy. But this will also be a day of sorrow and grief as we all know that many good – probably the best people: young, honest and bold – gave their lives to make it happen. We all shall do more and better then, to make their sacrifice worth it.

Tetiana Kanashchuk has worked at Gleeds since 2006. She joined as an office assistant with a diploma from the National University of Construction and Architecture, so this was her route into the construction sector. Today, she is the first and only sustainability consultant working with Gleeds in Ukraine.

Gleeds in Ukraine

On 24 February 2022 all of Gleeds’ Ukraine projects stopped overnight. Fortunately, some were resurrected in April and May and then, thanks to the the firm’s track record and the work of the marketing team, they managed to secure new work. There are eight members of Gleeds staff in Kyiv and other cities in Ukraine. 

When the war began, Gleeds set up a global giving page to provide a place for colleagues to donate towards the crisis. Workers contributed £11,000 towards local charities including ChildAid, the Way Home Odessa Charity Foundation and Fundatia ROLDA.

Gleeds is repairing missile damage in two shopping centres that the firm previously helped to build in Ukraine and is working on a project to build a 150,000m2 production facility for a major international construction materials manufacturer in a country that is still at war.